The future…

Well, I promised you something innovative last time…and I mean to keep to my word. I’m going out on a limb here – for many reasons. These include the facts that I haven’t exactly enjoyed the whole experience of being pregnant and I’ve had serious difficulties reconciling myself with my changing silhouette. However, as I’m suddenly in my 2nd Trimester – that mythical period of ‘normality’ in the middle of knocked up-ness – I’m feeling physically fitter and more ready to embrace the style challenges that face me. And, if not to embrace them, then to conquer the demons that I face…

When you get pregnant you’re told to spend three months sitting on the news without telling anyone the news. You may or may not follow this advice (I inadvertently did – but mainly because I didn’t ‘do the Math’ properly and thought I was only 2 months gone when I could not longer resist the urge and spilt to my family!) but, I can reassure you that – whatever you think – you could pass for ‘not pregnant’. At least physically. This is because – even though you can probably see a little ‘bump’ every time you take your clothes off – the innocents who surround you will just think you’re putting on weight: unless they see other evidence – such as vomiting, inadvertent falling asleep or sudden crying at news broadcasts, you’re in the clear. Since these odd behavioural traits are usually things that a pregnant woman would like to avoid doing in public, you’ll probably be able to keep them under wraps.

So most pregnant women avoid looking ‘properly pregnant’ until they get to about four or five months gone. The exceptions are those women who are hideously skinny when they start – i.e. models or teenagers – or people who are never supposed to get pregnant – like nuns or those post-menopausal women who appear with worrying regularity in the pages of the Daily Mail’s Femail section (sadly, reading it online – so I don’t financially support their evil – is my guilty secret) after electing to have kids because they’re ‘desperate’ for kids…finally. However, even after women have been able to hide the developing baby, they’ve almost certainly been struggling to get into their civvies for a while. Which doesn’t help if they’re suffering from morning sickness – believe me!

After that, many women just seem to ‘pop’. I spent one weekend sitting around watching The Killing (luckily not the episode with the shooting – which would have rendered me emotionally paralysed) and eating popcorn, woke up on Monday morning, put on real clothes – not the glorified pyjamas I’d been sporting for the previous two days and one evening – and freaked. Suddenly the baby wasn’t just coming – it had arrived. Or had certainly made its presence felt. There was no more hope of being able to enjoy normality when people occasionally forgot about my ‘condition’. Instead now, it was all ‘I’ve not finished my crisps – do you want the rest?’ and ‘you’re not lifting anything heavier than the printing’. Okay…not bad things per se (especially since we moved office last week and I wasn’t allowed to do anything more taxing than boss the IT geeks around – bonus) but it can get a bit tiring. I’ll tell you one thing, this ‘not lifting’ gig doesn’t extend as far as the bloody tea round. Selfish buggers – don’t they know how heavy a tray is?

Anyway, having popped, I was very glad I’d tried to be organised and bought a couple of maternity things. I had made a couple of elementary mistakes, however. Mainly because I’d been a little bit too optimistic about out delightful Scouse climate. Having forgotten that we have only three seasons here (comprising winter – or December, summer – May / June (if you’re lucky) and the rest of the time), I had anticipated being able to integrate my spring/summer fashion choices from late March onwards. Imbecile!, as Hercule Poirot would say – and, boy, do I feel like Captain Hastings. Of course, due to the fact that I am unwilling to spend more money than I absolutely have to on my new clothing, I am not going to admit defeat and intend to wear my new wardrobe – however cold, windswept or generally inappropriate it makes me feel.

And so to the actual details…I can tell that you’re all on the edge of your seats! As I said, I tried to be realistic in my choice of ‘look’ – I considered my lifestyle, the expected weather (although I may have screwed up there – thank you BBC long range weather forecasters, with your disclaimers that aren’t strongly worded enough for the type of optimist who likes to take the term ‘spring / summer’ literally!) and the potential size of bump I might end up lugging around. All very practical but, I can assure you, not things that necessarily preclude elegance or a certain level of chic.

Once you’re having to dress the bump, you probably won’t be throwing up anymore. Yippee! That doesn’t mean you should have a look at ‘dry-clean only’ options. I try to avoid buying anything that I have to have dry-cleaned or which requires ironing at any time – whether I’m pregnant or not. That’s due, in the main, to the fact that I’m lazy…but also because I’m a pragmatist at heart. I had a very bad experience at a cleaning establishment where I discovered that ‘dry cleaning’ is, in my opinion, a complete misnomer. I’ve bought a washing machine that actually has a setting that (I quote) promises to ‘wash your woollen/delicate clothes that bear ”not machine washable” labels’ with ‘very tender washing movements’, apparently incapable of ‘damaging your clothes’. Legend!

So, whilst I suppose I could try to chance “not machine washable” buys, I think that – since I want to be able to wear my new uniform after baby has arrived (I’m so not losing the flab straightaway when I a) have an excuse not to and b) am not chased around town by paparazzi losers looking to make me look like a sea lion at every opportunity) and that means it may be subjected to burp juice, vomit and baby poop – clothing that washes at 40°C is the way to go. I’ve also decided to opt for shapes that will last. As much as that’s possible. Luckily, the advantage of looking like a person who has a Cadbury’s crème egg attached to her front, is that no-one has yet found a way of making maternity clothing in innovative shapes. The most ‘of the moment’ items you’ll find are maxi-dresses and leggings – neither of which exactly break the mould. My Mum wore the first option when she was pregnant with me and everyone who was pregnant in the 80s or has been since about 2004 has worn the latter.

However, back to the actual items. I’m planning on doing dresses mainly. There are economic reasons behind this logic – wearing dresses means I have to think about fewer items and fuss over co-ordinating items. Frankly, half my brain seems to have disappeared – so the idea of thinking less is mighty seductive. I’ve already got my outerwear sorted (details to come) so I can just grab it and go every morning. Now I need to think about actual clothing. In choosing a dress, I have a little variety – short (well, knee length) or long. Specifically shift-type dresses or maxis. When it comes to separates, choice is seriously limited. It seems that the designing powers-that-be have decided that the only smart trousers that are appropriate for the expectant mother are wide legged. Actually they have designed other options but I feel that – unless you are blind or possess a minimal IQ – you would never choose to experiment with peg-legs, paper-bag waistbands or velour for work during a rite of passage when you’re definitely supposed to be growing up. I suppose some people want a final fling at fashion freedom but I’d rather be sure that I don’t look like a dickhead.

Jeans are an exception. They come in a really wide variety of shapes, cuts and sizes. Dorothy Perkins, New Look and even George at Asda do hard-wearing versions in lots of colours and weights of denim. Google the sites and go crazy. Bear in mind, though, that jeans seem to be an item of clothing that last longer than others. They fit below the bump pretty well – if you disguise the newly styled ‘waistband’ with a long length top.

When it comes to tops, again there is very little excitement. Think normal tops but bigger and longer. Inspired. Truly. I would advise getting some decent t-shirts and vests – you can wear them with jeans, leggings and knitwear. Believe me, that option is really tempting when you’ve reached the point of having to roll to get off the floor. On top of that (and my dresses), I’m just going for knitwear. Shrugs or waterfall cardigans, mainly. I’ve also decided to treat myself to a cute empire line length crossover cardigan – meaning I get some definition under my bust and dividing any mono-boob. Hopefully the weather this year will mean that I can occasionally venture out of the house without outerwear – and the knitwear will come into its own.

With dresses you it can be tempting to buy everything in knitted fabrics – but they’re unexpectedly unflattering. If you buy at the reasonable end of the market the fabric won’t be very heavy duty and can’t disguise any ‘bite’ caused by your underwear, tights or leggings you wear underneath. A fabric with a little stretch that’s cut well means that you won’t have those problems. I recommend going to http://www.asos.com or the Tesco website and having a good look at their ranges. Tesco doesn’t specifically do maternity clothing but has a really wide range of tunics that have enough fabric to cope with the bump (if in doubt try a size up) and a lot of maxi-dresses in surprisingly lovely prints and styles – they offer sleeves, straps that can support your newly excitable bust and most have a really flattering empire-line with all the fabric you need to grow with the bump. If you want to chance the more body-con style, go for it – this is the one time in your life when you absolutely don’t have to pull in your tummy!

The reason that shifts and tunics work well because they mostly fit at the back – showing the one part of your body that still looks like your body to its best advantage. With clever pleats, folds or extra panels, they also grow with you but fall against the smallest version of you at the start of the pregnancy popping process – and then after the baby popping process. Pleating from the centre or at both sides (just under the bust) or panels offering extra fabric at the sides (hidden under the arms)are very clever. These dresses offer the kind of fit and cut that most of us have learnt not to expect from high-street retailers. Again, I recommend http://www.asos.com and Dorothy Perkins especially – but it’s worth checking out Tesco for dress length tunics which have really beautiful pleat details sewn down over the centre of the bust that then flow outwards skimming the bump. I understand that you might want to avoid this look if your ankles have swollen, say, or you’re feeling self-conscious about your legs. If so, wide legs and maxis will look elegant.

I’ll definitely wear the shifts with tights for now, then leggings. I would heartily advise getting maternity versions – instead of buying a size up: a mistake I have already made. Maternity tights and leggings are almost the most comfortable things I have ever worn. They look, frankly, weird – and come in a choice of two styles: ‘over bump’ or ‘under bump’. You’ll probably have been wearing your normal clothes ‘under bump’ for a while and I find the ‘over bump’ style a real relief. Either option seems to only come in material which is a million times softer and more hardwearing than that of any piece of clothing you have previously worn. It’s like they’ve been made specifically to soothe the most precious package ever carried. However, it’s worth remembering that they’ve been specifically made to soothe the package’s carrier.

With underwear, respond to the changes in your body – you can’t possibly know what will happen. I thought my boobs would go mental. So far, no change. I’ve been able to wear my sensible – and, yes, horrible looking – underwear since day one (assuming I actually know when that is!) and, due possibly to its age or just the power of the bump, the material hasn’t put up much of a fight. The more delicate sort of underwear (no, not as delicate as ‘lingerie’ – you know what type I’m talking about: possibly the type that got me into this mess) has been worn ‘under bump’ so far – although I think that period is coming to an end. Goodbye, lace trims (not all over lace – that falls into the ‘lingerie’ category) and scalloped or frilled edgings. Hello yet more white, black or ‘nude’ (I freaking hate that term) lycra. Scarily, sooner or later, I’ll have to take the leap and buy either ‘under bump’ or ‘over bump’ maternity pants.

Strangely, from what I’ve seen, the ‘under’ options look way more uncomfortable than any of the most severe thongs I’ve worn. They are tiny – I guess because there isn’t a lot of room down there for a knicker competing with a baby – and I can’t believe anyone would want to wear something so garden twine-like when they’re already worrying about stretch marks, itchiness, aching boobs, back ache, swollen body parts…oh, and the actual birth. Obviously, ‘overs’ – assuming they’re as comfy as the tights and leggings I’ve tried – seem like the better choice. There are, however, another couple of options – if you’re really, really, really attached to your normal pants (and they still fit), you can choose a ‘baby band’ or ‘support belt’. This comprises an elasticated pant to bump joining solution. Each to their own, I suppose. Then there is the new variety of maternity ‘vanity underwear’ – made by the likes of Spanx. Sorry but I’m not even going there.

Since Baby Blakemore is due in August, I think it’ll be possible to keep on keeping on with most jackets or coats that I already own. They’re both too expensive to merit buying in a special maternity design. The only thing that’s important is that they fit the wearer’s back and shoulders. A jacket that reaches your hip might be able to be buttoned cutely right at the top of the bump – if the fastenings are high enough. Otherwise just wear it open and thank your stars it’s at least giving you a shape because it inevitably goes in somewhere or other. With a trench, you can always fasten the belt at the back to get the same effect. Don’t feel embarrassed about the bump peeking out – it’s cute! If I was expecting in the winter, I’d choose a parka, cocoon-ish coat or a reasonably well sized trench. A belted option might seem silly but chances are that a winter coat already has enough room to accommodate layers – so that gives you more room for the baby.

Shoes are an area that I changed almost straightaway. I learnt I was pregnant in the winter – when it was snowing – and wore Ugg boots as a necessity. I had to wear flats for work as I was constantly on my feet…and just carried on. I have worn heels – wedges to be exact – but felt a bit precarious. However, I have a good friend who wore heels throughout both her pregnancies. I say go with what works for you. My well-heeled friend always wore wedges in generous sizes – so either way we both feel that comfort has to be the priority. Especially if you get swollen heels or feet. The temperature of my extremities seems to have risen considerably – my wedding ring feels tighter much of the time and my feet have swollen. However, luckily, my ankles haven’t. This means that I can get away with the tights and leggings. However, as I’ve said before, you might not be so lucky.

I would say, either way, don’t skimp: M&S do great flats – they even say ‘Pretty Pumps’ on the inner sole, which always cheers me up – that come in a really great range of shapes, colours (neutrals and brights), half-sizes and often have decoration and embellishment which you’d normally find in expensive brands. They do square toes that look like Karen Millen and Kurt Geiger styles and are really useful for toes growing in the heat. After I leave work on mat leave, I plan to live in flip-flops, though. Who can resist? God, I just hope I can still paint my toenails by then! With heels, for God’s sake buy a brand that provides some balance – Next and New Look usually offer wedges with a wide heel: you want to cover the maximum surface area possible! No narrow heels to lose your balance on – your centre of gravity has changed and you’re walking around with a kicking machine inside you. I know from experience that, when babies ‘flex’ (such a graceful euphemism to describe what is, in effect, a seriously hardcore choice of exercise class), they seldom do so symmetrically. Oh no – why do that when you can jumping jack or move opposite legs and arms? A surprise footwear retailer that falls into my approved category is Matalan: it shouldn’t be a shock really as they won the Drapers Value Footwear Retailer of the Year Award in 2009 – and that doesn’t appear to have been a blip.

I think I should mention accessories. At the moment there are lots of cross body bags available. Try Dorothy Perkins and Next – but don’t be a snob about trying the sort of pop-up boutiques you might not usually frequent. You need hard-wearing but affordable and cross-body styles will interfere least with your new sense of balance. Also, considering the fact that – sooner or later – you’ll need something which can accommodate a nappy, bottle (if you go somewhere where a nappy bag wouldn’t be an option) or just the sort of essentials that don’t presently register in your handbag contents: documents, hospital files and wet-wipes, for instance. At the moment, I want scarves and costume jewellery – both cheap and purchasable in my previously preferred retail outlets. I like being able to shop where I did pre-maternity – it maintains some sense of retail therapy normality.

When you’re pregnant your body changes even more quickly (and extremely) than it did during adolescence. As do the other things that changed back then – I’m talking about skin, hair and nails, primarily. In my first trimester I got spots for the first time since puberty (excepting the monthly chin zit even my husband notices) and my hair went greasy and super straight. My nails, on the other hand, grew faster and became stronger than an angry Bruce Banner. I hate to admit this but, on this, Sarah Palin may be onto something. Nature makes you – literally – the perfect Mama Grizzly: bigger, angrier and a more natural fighter than ever before.

One of the downsides of this new Amazonian strength is the changes in beauty routine it will necessitate. No matter what I did with my skincare routine, I couldn’t shift the zits. Admittedly, I didn’t try some of the more extreme treatments most teenagers do – I’m not a sadomasochist or a self-harmer, for God’s sake. So…I just used gentle products, a foundation for oilier skin and gave up mirrors. All were very reasonably priced. With my hair, I’ve come to a decision – I’m going back to my natural colour. For those of you who’ve never seen my natural colour (everyone), I can assure you that it isn’t stunning. However, I want my baby to know what I actually look like. To this end I have also, within reason, allowed my eyebrows to go ‘au naturel’. Risky, but – luckily – fashion forward this season. Also, on a thirty-five year old, not such a desperate move – after all I have at least twenty years of plucking experience behind me. I’m aiming for the look sported by Barbra Streisand in her 70s bubble perm period. Without the bubbles, of course.

I hope that all of these tips will have longevity – so that I can keep on going thru’ after the birth without worrying about what to where with what or when to colour my hair and, as you will have inferred from my discourse, I will not advocate expensive purchases or anything that will not last. I decided against this when I researched maternity wear and discovered that – with the few exceptions that I have mentioned – the only really beautiful options available are hideously expensive and clearly intended only for people who have the kind of money that means they aren’t decorating the nursery with the credit crunch in mind. Lucky them, but I’m the kind of mother-to-be who’s grateful for hand-me-downs and freebies – and I have to say that it turns out that there are wonderful, joyful advantages to this approach.

Most people are given things by well-meaning friends and relatives when they have babies – in many cases, these items have already been used and loved. In fact, it’s rare that you’ll receive something that doesn’t come with a strong recommendation – and you can really feel the love. It’s a wonderful, nurturing time when you really understand the meaning of sisterhood.

That, I think, is as much to be celebrated as the birth. Whatever happens, when you have a baby, you are not alone.

Next time, something that may be helpful for S/S budgeting: advice on what (and what not) to wear this year. I was recently asked – ‘How about a blog topic that helps “real women” identify styles, prints and colours that flatter and those that are a pure “no-no”?’. I’m excited. Well, a little bit – but I’ll tell you all why imminently.

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